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Britain’s defence secretary, Liam Fox, sounded a little scripted in Misrata at the weekend when I asked him whether NATO’s airstrikes in Muammar Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte were staying within its remit to protect civilians in Libya.
“NATO has been extraordinarily careful in target selection.”
“NATO has been very careful to minimize civilian casualties.”
“NATO has stayed within its mandate throughout.”
It’s a mantra that NATO, and the countries that have contributed to its Libyan adventure, have had to learn well. They’ve been accused of stretching the legality of the mission “to protect civilians by all necessary measures” before.
But the problem with sticking to a script, is that the Libyan conflict hasn’t really progressed with any sort of predictable narrative since the fall of Tripoli on the night of August 23rd.
If the then rebels of the now ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) expected that internal insurrections would help them and they’d race into Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte and the other remaining holdout, Bani Walid, to a hero’s welcome, they were mistaken.
Of course Reuters has reporters on both sides of the front line, but from Tunis I have been keeping an eye on Libyan television too – partly because it has scrolling headlines in English about the latest crusader, colonial and al Qaeda atrocities which might carry some news but also, I have to admit, from a fascination with the procession of people voicing their support for the Brother Leader, Muammar Gaddafi.
Since the end of international sanctions against Libya, leader Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam has symbolized hope in the West that a secretive, authoritarian oil and gas exporter can reform itself from within.
The sharp-suited, western-educated Islam has called for a new constitution, a freer press and an independent judiciary, music to the ears of the U.S. and of European governments all desperate to give a moral basis to their re-engagement with the oil-rich north African state.
The overthrow of Madagascar’s leader may have had nothing to do with events elsewhere in Africa, but after four violent changes of power within eight months the question is bound to arise as to whether the continent is returning to old ways.
Three years without coups between 2005 and last year had appeared to some, including foreign investors, to have indicated a fundamental change from the first turbulent decades after independence. This spate of violent overthrows could now be another reason for investors to tread more warily again, particularly as Africa feels the impact of the global financial crisis.
Libya’s often controversial leader, Muammar Gaddafi, has finally won the top seat at the African Union and promised to accelerate his drive for a United States of Africa, but it seems doubtful that even his presence in the rotating chairmanship will do anything to overcome the reluctance of many African nations to accelerate moves towards a federal government.
Gaddafi, a showman whose fiery, often rambling speeches, sometimes unconventional behaviour and colourful robes are always a scene stealer at international gatherings, has been pushing for a pan-regional govenrment for years. But like his previous, three-decade drive to to promote Arab unity, it has not aroused much enthusiasm in many quarters. All the AU’s 53 states have said they agree in principle but estimates for how long this will take vary from nine years to 35.